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Thinking routines reviewed (in shorter!!!)

November 16, 2008 at 4:06 AM


Kevin Tompkins started a very interesting discussion about handling nerves just before and while performing. We all know 1000 tricks to calm ourselves down on a performance day but just before and while performing is another story!

Kevin said something almost everyone has experienced: being all right until the last moment when the nerves are impossible to control

I want to explore something very closely related to this topic: what can you think during the performance before yours, and while playing. It's proven that it has a direct impact on your playing and I have always read a lot about this. I have noticed the huge difference (if I compare my playing when I am doing my little "thinking routine" and when I'm not) of course you don't become a wonderful player from this alone, but it surely helps...

In a previous posting, I said that my best trick was to imagine I was my idol (since a musician that I respect very much once suggested me to try this) It's true, but I think saying it like this is kind of basic and sounds pretentious + the art of thinking the good thing that can improve your playing goes way beyond this!

I would be curious about knowing what is your thinking routine since it can be very inspiring for everyone and interesting to see the differences between people. For some persons, thinking a specific thing is very efficient and for some others, the same thing is very stressful! So may I start off and I'm taking courageously the risk to have all the V.comers laughing at me... and after all, laughing is good for our health! lol

In my opinion, thinking routines can help a beginner as well as a pro! At the same time, it forces you to focuss on something else that your stress symptomes!

I've just posted a blog about a few hours ago describing in such details every step of a concert : the minutes before the performance, while and after etc (for exemple, I even said that walking to fast to the stage was bad for increasing the heart rate which is quite obvious!!!) since I have read so much about this and wanted to combine these tricks with my experience as an amateur student but it was way to complex and long. SORRY for those who read the whole thing it looked like a PHD work and it was not my intention! I have a tendency to write too much and it can be quite confusing for any reader! In short, I just wanted to say that I think of these things and it help me alot:

- I associate words or mental images with behaviours and always talk to myself when I feel that I become stressed. A psychologist said in an article that to see a red pannel with the word STOP on it helps to realease the tension and stress. I also have a word ex :be relax (I said another expression in the other blog but I realize that it didn't make sense at all in english since I speak french and tried to traduce it!) that I say to myself each time I am tense while playing and it works!

- see you and your pianist as a duet. In fact, as a student, I consider myself lucky to work with such an experiment musician. I find the term "accompagnist" would better apply to me! It is team work and I'm not alone!

- I always talk to myself for the technical details such as: more bow, less bow, more vibrato here, play this at the point etc! It is comforting because it gives me the impression to know what I'm doing

- If I see some one in the audience, I try to stay focus and imagine that no one is there.

- If I approch a frightening passage, I say my magic word (in my head) and then it is the time to play the game of pretending to be your number one idol! Just to get in the confident mood no more because the techcnical issues are the main thing to think of and I think that being to emotional or dancing while playing is not good because you lose your focus! Emotions is for the audience! I know this could start a debate but it's like shoulder rests: only personal opinions!

- when I finish, I try to not forget to smile because even if I can be dissapointed, why should I involve everyone who is happy in my technical problems! Smiling is just showing your gratitude to the persons who listen to you and your... mistakes!

I think this is the essential of my other too long posting and I welcome everyone to tell us what is his or her way of thinking in order to play better. Is it seeing a wonderful beach, picture the audience in their underwear with rubber chickens on their heads (seriously some do this trick!) or seeing theeirselves in a gorgeous hall etc I mean everything is ok if it allow one to play better so go on if you want to share your thinking routines!

I though it could be an interesting and maybe funny topic!


From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted via on November 16, 2008 at 1:04 PM

I actually found that doing things like imagining I am my idol--or anything out of reach, since I'm never going to play like my idol--didn't work at all and made the problem worse.  I'm easily distractable, though, especially when nervous--maybe more so than other people, so maybe I'm not saying that couldn't help others.

But I first found that it helped me a great deal when giving slide presentations for work to memorize the order of the slides and go through them in order.  So I would say, mentally to myself, something like "1. Title slide; 2. Introduce the hypothesis, don't forget to mention Smith's contribution; 3. methods slide, concentrate on the timeline . . . " and on up to 30 or however many slides I had.  

I would do that in the time that I would normally spend freaking out before the presentation.   And it would help de-fuse my fear of the "worst thing that could happen" which was to find myself standing up there in front of a bunch of people, drawing a total blank and saying "uuuh . . . . uuuuh . . . "

I've been trying that for music performance as well:  I divide the piece up into sections and talk myself through one and then the next, all the way to the end.  It helps me with memorizing pieces too, something I never did in the past.

From al ku
Posted via on November 16, 2008 at 1:11 PM

very interesting ideas:)

i will relate something i read recently, not sure it is really on topic here but it may offer some understanding for some people.

i was reading a little biography about this chilean pianist by the name of claudio arrau ( apparently he was quite a pianist.   serious training in europe under great teachers, practiced over 10 hrs/day since youth, even spoon fed  meals on the piano bench:) 

someone interviewed him in a q and a format and among many topics, they talked about performance anxiety which, i take, during the middle stage of his performing career, became an issue big enough that he often had to cancel series of concerts because of nerves or getting physically sick because of nerves.   fortunately for him,  he befriended a psychiatrist who helped him regain his abilities under stress, but it took a while.

one thing that struck me is when  the interviewer asked arrau, in my paraphrase,,,what do you think is the reason for your anxiety?

arrau: i became too eager to please people (audience).

so here we have someone whose techniques were not really of concern anymore, but the inner desire for perfection apparently led him into a deadend:  if in my mind that it is not going to be perfect,  i will feel sick over it and cannot even give it a try.  all or nothing.

as a kid learning music, we help them play in a way to engage or connect with the audience, to share and bring them pleasure.  we see young beginners, endowed with all the tech problems, enjoy themselves immensely, which brings great pleasure to understanding audience.

in the learning process, we teach them more about right vs wrong, acceptable vs unacceptable, good vs bad, to strive for that recital performance with no breakdown or slipped notes, so that they learn to become better musicians, to please others more in a more conscious way.

but the reality is that it is very difficult to please others if  others, ie, critics, are looking for perfection.

i don't have any good answer to this seeming dilemma, particularly when everyone is different.  with my kid on violin, because of her beginner level and limited exposure, it has not become an issue,,,yet.  but with golf,  to help her with mental conditioning, to detach action from consequence in a balanced and constructive way,  is what daily practice is about.   

PS..omg, laurie and robert have put the edit button in the blog section,,,,thank you!   we are not worthy,,,,we are not worthy,,,,:)

From Ray Randall
Posted via on November 16, 2008 at 5:45 PM

As an airline pilot and test flying for NASA I found when all heck was breaking loose when flying and, literally, our lives were on the line with what I would do I performed best when thinking of.......absolutely nothing. Rather than analyzing the situation, and there were some very bad ones, by not thinking at all I let my automatic systems take over and they always worked  perfectly                                                                                                                                              

During some very bad weather I wore a heart monitor for some doctors doing research and we found that the worse the situation became the lower my heart rate. Again, I took my conscious brain out of the occasion and let my experience and training take over. Why can't we, as musicians, do the same thing. This would only work if you knew the piece very well and you can play it almost perfectly at home. This won't help a thing if you do not know the performance music or lack the skills to play it well. If you're not thinking then you're not anxious or worried. Stand back and let your brain and body do what it knows it can do.Don't interfere.

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted via on November 16, 2008 at 6:57 PM


thanks to you three for your responses and still welcome everyone to post answers!  As I see, there is as many ways to aboard a performance of all sort!  In my case, I have always talked to myself and it helps me a lot and takes out the stress.  When I do ... nothing, it can go find for a while but a stupid mistake will occur or a memory blank at some point even if I know the technical basis of something very well!  Because Randoll is right, I have forgot to mention that if the piece isn't well knowned, the thinking routines of all kind are unefficient! I think in violin, some analyse and others play by instinct and some do the two at the same time.  I have always thought that when I see a soloist that plays everything with his or her eyes open and look frequently to the conductor etc that it must be a very analytique person and in the other hand, when the soloist is lying on his violin eyes close that it is more someone who relies on his or her instinct as if it was in an other world!  (maybe I am totally wrong about the two types of violinists!!!)I think this is personnality issues but it is interesting to read!

Thanks and welcome to all!


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